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Food safety when using food delivery companies

Third-party delivery services have transformed the reach and profitability of restaurants.

Take-out food was once a luxury; now it is taken for granted, particularly among mobile-savvy Millennials.

But food delivery does introduce a new level of food safety risks, and it’s your reputation on the line if something goes wrong. In this case, no one will blame the messenger. Setting up a delivery option for a restaurant can be a steep learning curve, but the same food safety rules apply, and if you get it right you’ll see a huge boost in revenue.

How it works

Customers can place orders through a third-party app, or directly through your website or phone line. The restaurant pays a commission on each delivery to the provider. The pioneers of food delivery were the fast-food pizza chains and Chinese/Indian restaurants who would use their own drivers or freelancers on commission.

Today, dedicated gig-economy outfits have grabbed market share, synchronizing the process between restaurant, delivery, and customer online. Here are the issues to be aware of…

Is the order accurate?

Problem: Your menu is tested daily to meet the dietary requirements of your customers, so it will be specific about allergens, gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan dishes. But some delivery services only present an abridged version of your menu on their app. Boom! A customer with a nut allergy inadvertently orders an unmarked dish and you’re the one with a lawsuit on your hands.

Solution: Always work with a trusted company and take the time to check the version of the menus that are used. Do not allow any delivery service to deliver your dishes without your approval. 

Highway to the Danger Zone

Problem: Your food could be delivered anywhere within a 5 or 10km radius, in a car or on a cyclist’s back.

Pizza companies have been doing this for years without much incident, but the surge in delivery companies means that the landscape is muddied.

It’s no longer just hot pizza on the road, but sushi, dairy- or egg-based sauces, and seafood. The same golden rule applies: Food should be kept out the danger zone below 40°F or 5°C if it’s cold, or above 140F° or 63°C if it’s cooked.

Bacteria levels can double every 10 to 20 minutes, so the delivery window is a serious opportunity for food poisoning outbreaks to occur.

Solution: Make sure you pack your food in sealed, airtight containers to maintain a consistent temperate, and that the delivery company has refrigerated or insulated containers specifically for the purpose.

Soggy fried chicken and melted ice cream

Problem: Your take out feast contains hot mains, sides, and sauces – but also cold chutneys, dips, salads and sushi. Put them all in the same bag and you’re on a one way ticket to the Danger Zone. Standard take out containers – the kind with aluminum foil and a paper lid – may be great where customers are picking up an order, but they’re not sufficient for a food delivery company rider pounding over cobbles.

Solution: Avoid packing hot and cold foods together. Invest in some screw-tight or robust containers to stop leaking or soggy deliveries. Bear in mind that your hot food will ‘sweat’ so it won’t look as appetizing as it does on the plate unless you find the right materials for your containers.

Customer service

Problem: Instead of your suave maître d’h fully trained front of house staff, your Just-Eats, Deliveroo or Uber eats rider is now the face of your business. Luckily, the tip-based nature of food delivery means most third-party staff will go the extra mile, but bear in mind too that’s it’s frustrating work – fighting traffic, weather, and often less than welcoming customers. Occasionally, friction arises between deliverer and customer, but the angry phone call will be heading to your phone.

Solution: Treat your delivery service as a partner. Get them excited about your brand. Put a clear complaints procedure in place for when customers order and make sure it’s displayed prominently on your website.

Out of Time

Problem: If your delivery is late, your reputation suffers. Nothing riles customers more than late delivery. Up until now, you only had to worry about creating great dishes. Now you’ve got to make them fast, too.

Solution: Give your customers an estimated delivery time. You can track your delivery in real time, and the delivery service will also give live updates. Domino’s famously offered its 30-minute money back guarantee. Unfortunately, this set the standard that all the rest are obliged to follow. 

Lack of professionalism

Problem: You’ve sourced your menu from the finest, freshest ingredients, and prepared it with five-star attention to detail, but it’s dropped off by a guy in a band t-shirt chewing gum and driving a rusty Datsun. 

Solution: Only work with companies who insist on uniformed, branded delivery vehicles and staff.

Next steps

Before you start talking to delivery services, take a look at your kitchen to ensure that it’s set up for a delivery operation. Not just the physical layout, but the staffing roster too. Bear in mind that adding delivery to your offering can transform operations. You’re used to the pace and rhythm of your on-location covers, but inviting take-out can see the workload rocket.

Set up a packing and preparation area for service and add dedicated staff at peak hours, if necessary.

Then look at your local neighborhood to see who’s offering delivery in the area.

Check their testimonials, compare commission structures, and even try using them yourself on your (rare) days off.


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